Words, Wordmen, Final Words

Words of Wisdom from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. *


From: Robert Sanford and his Mom
Subject: Graduation Thoughts
Date: Mon, 4 Aug 1997 21:41:15

The following is from a commencement speech given by author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. *

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on.

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.

Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth. But trust me on the sunscreen."

*This was first posted in 1997, an email gone viral back in the last century, BF (Before Facebook). Several people wrote a few years back to state, or even document, how this graduation address was largely mis-attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and much to his chagrin. The story goes that he was only partially quoted, or paraphrased, in his advice about sunscreen. The rest was said to be the creative work of the journalist, and therein lies the original email (above) suggesting this was 100% Kurt Vonnegat Jr. Whatever, it struck a chord with a whole generation of newbie email users in the 90's, and - amazingly - still will seem like awfully wise advice for many today!

I know not what the truth is, and will be happy to abide by it if either author wants attribution. However, I personally do think this is great advice for graduates, no matter who actually said what!

Meanwhile, there's a very wise, funny, and timely NEW (June 2011)
Commencement address delivered by Conan O'Brien, which is 100% his words, and a wonderful (if cautionary) description of these times we live in.

[Updated] Here is another actual, documented graduation speech which I heartily recommend.

I know lots of visitors are directed to this page (stumbled upon), for the fictitious or hybrid speech above - but here is one of the greatest social psychologists in history [Stanford Prison Experiment], the legendary Phil Zimbardo, delivering a 2013 Commencement Speech. Profound words of wisdom. Pure gold:
Dr. Z's Advice for a Meaningful Life.

--Color Line--


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